Self-Portrait (c.1640)

Van Dyck, Anthony (1599-1641)

Oil on canvas, 56 x 46 cm
National Portrait GalleryLondon

This portrait is one of three known self-portraits painted by van Dyck when he was in England, and it probably dates from the last years of his life. The artist shows himself fashionably dressed but apparently in the act of painting, the line of his right shoulder and sleeve suggesting his hand raised in the process of applying paint to a canvas just out of sight. The broad handling of the paint in the costume, compared with the face, may indicate that this area of the painting is unfinished, or it may be that this is simply a more experimental work than his formal court portraits. The frame of this painting, crested with the sunflower motif associated with the artist, is of outstanding importance and is likely to have been designed with van Dyck‘s involvement. (NPG)

Appointed “principalle Paynter in Ordenarie to their Majesties” at the Stuart Court in 1632, Anthony van Dyck is responsible for producing the most iconic images of Charles I, his family and their inner circle, many of which are now on display in the Royal Academy galleries.

Born in Antwerp in 1599, Van Dyck was a teen prodigy who blossomed as an assistant to his celebrated compatriot, Peter Paul Rubens. Following a brief trip to England in 1620, he spent six years in Italy and became captivated by the work of Titian, filling a sketchbook with a number of drawings after paintings by the 16th-century master. He established a reputation as the leading portraitist of his day, winning commissions from aristocrats across Europe.

Determined to tempt Van Dyck to his court, Charles welcomed the artist with a knighthood, a generous salary and a studio at Blackfriars. Van Dyck’s paintings were received with much praise by the British nobility, but he remained restless, travelling to Antwerp and Paris in search of alternative opportunities. He fell ill in 1641 and died in London that December, just before the outbreak of Civil War.

Anthony van Dyck, c.1640. Oil on canvas, 56 x 46 cm. National Portrait GalleryLondon. Purchased with help from the Art Fund, 1965. Photo © National Portrait GalleryLondon. (RA)